If you're worth your Simpsons salt, then you've probably played the classic arcade game, or one of the other console titles that have made their way out over the years. It gets even better for Simpsons fans soon, with new games based on the Springfield four due before the end of the year on multiple platforms. We got some hands-on time with the Nintendo DS version of The Simpsons Game at the Electronic Arts booth today, and it's looking promising.
Although all the games on the different platforms are based on the same general storyline, the versions of the title are fundamentally quite different. For a start, while the next-generation console version is a 3D action adventure game with a very deliberate cartoon feel, the DS version is a 2D side-scroller with a unique feel and control system.
Like the console versions of the game, you control two Simpsons family members as they battle their way through Springfield, although never both at the same time. Character swap points are triggered automatically, so you'll never need to manually swap to complete a task with a different player. Our hands-on saw us piloting Homer and Bart, beating down would-be attackers and unlocking their special abilities as the story evolved. Bart, for example, can eventually turn into Bartman and achieve flight.
Not surprisingly, the gameworld is set in Springfield, with each area represented on the town map by a building. Even the Noiseland Arcade turns up, and houses Simpson-themed minigames including a Frogger clone.
As with everything Simpsons, tongue is firmly planted in cheek, and there's plenty of homage and passing nods to other video games--you even run into a large Lara Croft cliff early on in the piece. EA was quick to let us know that despite claims to the contrary, Simpsons creator Matt Groening is in fact not the final boss in the game, with the honor going to another as unannounced character.
The game engine has been coded specifically for the DS version, with the goal of putting the handheld's stylus system to good use. For example, Lisa's special move--the Buddha hand special attack--is controlled via the stylus, with players guiding the hand to either pick up objects, throw rocks at people, and more.
Our brief play with the game also gave us the chance to play with the virtual Homer Tamagotchi pet being included with the DS version. In essence, the minigame is a subtle dig at the Nintendogs concept with some fun twists. Homer's character model is articulated at some of his major joints, allowing you to pull out your stylus, poke him in his gut, move his knee, and drag items from the sidebar to feed and entertain him. An EA rep told us that progressing through the single-player campaign will unlock additional food and nonedible items to keep Homer from rolling over and going back to sleep on the couch during the minigame. Feeding him is as simple as poking the touch screen where the food is and dragging it to his mouth. He didn't go wild for the carrots we fed him, but seemed to dig on the pizza and pink doughnut with sprinkles. Eating too much of anything can cause Homer to go into a choking fit, a mode that will see his health bar drop quickly, and he'll need the saving grace of a quick jolt from a defibrillator to keep from croaking.
The DS version of the game will feature ad-hoc Wi-Fi networking, although there's no support for Nintendo's WFC worldwide Internet matching system.
The Simpsons Game on the DS is due to land sometime before the end of Q4 '07. Check back soon for a full review.